State of the Profession

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    Hopefully I can help you get a decent picture of what’s going on in the Baltimore/DC area for LA’s and architects. I used to work at an architecture firm for a number of years and probably have stronger ties to that portion, but anyway here goes:

    *** Of the LAs you know, how many lost their jobs after the economy went bad?
    I lost my job in Oct ’08, so that’s one. Of the handful of people I keep in touch with from undergrad, I’d say over 60% lost their jobs in the past couple years. Same went for those I’d met/worked with in the profession, about 60% or higher. Architects were even higher.

    ***How many of those who are practicing today are underemployed? Moderately or severely underemployed?
    Between architects and landscape architects, again it’s maybe 50-60% that over the past couple years have become unemployed/underemployed or have been collecting unemployment while starting their own consulting firm.

    ***As for firms, what have you seen happen to them in the downturn?
    In December of last year we visited Dallas and Austin, and discovered that there were very few ‘big-time’ firms that took over most the projects; it was more like a ton of small firms that were only 2-3 or sometimes only 1 person. Turns out that was the way of the future I suppose and it’s beginning to take hold on the East Coast more as well. It’s easier to absorb cost when you’re working from home or a small partnership that doesn’t have all the overhead costs of a huge firm. It’s like comparing how firms like AECOM blow through a design fee as opposed to a 2-person partnership. Money goes a long way when you’re small.

    ***Do you know of any that have closed their doors entirely?
    Yes, quite a few. Some have partnered with other larger firms to avoid biting the dust, while others just threw their hands up. I was formerly with a firm that had over 150 people at it’s highest point in 2007. By Oct 2009 they were closed. Another local architecture/landscape arch firm had two offices and downgraded to one, while yet another in downtown Baltimore shut down without even telling it’s staff. No joke. People just came to work one day and the doors were locked.

    It’s really a shame things are the way they are. Are you considering another alternative or just trying to be uber-prepared? Not that there’s anything wrong with either one!


    3. Architects (and some engineers) in some states have the power to stamp planting plans and other landscape architecture projects, thereby lessening the demand for more specialized LA services.

    Wait a second..not to derail the discussion, but weren’t you arguing against this point a month or two ago? The way I’m reading this says to me that the ability local governing agencies has alotted to competing industries, ie arch and civil, the less demand there is for that specific product, ie landscape. From the perspective of a Landscape Architect, would you be advocating better professional licensure and practice act protection as a means to improve the overall economic state of the profession?

    4. As a planner working alongside LAs for several years, I think LAs generally have more preserverance and loyalty to the profession than planners have to the planning profession.

    And therein lies both our weakness as professionals and a society. We’ll keep doing the jobif we get paid very little, all for the love, so to speak. Ever hear the one about the architect who won the lottery?



    Have you ever thought of submitting an op-ed to LA mag or another relevent publication? Seriously.

    Jason T. Radice

    Here in the Mid-Atlantic, thanks to the gubmint and the Base Realignment, things aren’t hit as bad as many other regions, but business is still terrible. I’m not too sure with the questions as it regards to LA’s in particular (most of my contacts and colleagues are in commercial architecture and engineering), but since we are all part of the AEC industry, the state of business is all interrelated.

    I know several architecture and engineering firms in the region (including some very well known and very old firms) that have just closed. As stated by someone else, they just locked their doors. Most have laid-off employees, to the tune of 20% to 50%, and everybody else is either worksharing, furloughed, or had to take fairly drastic salary reductions. I know one firm that laid off just last week as projects that were on the boards for a year or so finished up. The only firms that are staying afloat are those working on government jobs that were scheduled and budgeted more than a few years ago (there is a 5 year lead on substantial projects), and even these firms have downsized due to uncertainty of the contract going to completion. The states are broke and shedding employees, the towns and counties are hemorrhaging. The only stability is from the feds, but those projects are few and far between. What of the “stimulus” monies? Well, it ain’t stimulating much. My contacts in the engineering realm haven’t seen dollar one, as most of the projects in the region are simple road resurfacing, and others were projects that were going to be built anyway and were already fully funded, as most DOT’s schedule and budget projects years in advance, sometimes as long as a decade for major works. Some states (VA) have cleaned out their in-house engineering departments as well.

    Even some of the fail-safes, such as overseas work, are gone. Europe is in worse shape than the US is, Dubai over-extended itself and cannot complete projects that have broken ground, and China has severely slowed its development pace and has drastically scaled back projects. They have too much money tied up in bad economies all around the world.

    And to make matters worse, that when things DO pick up in construction, there will be a serious lag in the design sectors, as projects that were designed during the boom times are still in the developer’s drawer, waiting to be built. Great.

    I’d like to point you to this link regarding the architecture industry:

    Sorry to be such a downer. I’m not an optimist, I’m not a pessimist, I am a realist.

    Jason Turner

    second furlough? sorry – what’s that?


    Forces in the field now are striving and hell bent on making this field a “specialized niche” with sub-niches and nooks and crannies and their own little private pedestals. Thankfully they have not had success. Yet. Because I want to know if my garden is healing based, sustainable, energy focused, sensory, or if it is GLBT sensitive, HGTV approved, water smart, family friendly, non threatening, and holistic. A vortex would be a bonus.

    So would the anitthesis be homogenization of the professiona and craft with specific tenets of practice, definite mission, and formula for ‘good’ design? I think the proliferation of ‘specialized niches’ has both advantages and drawbacks. For one, the exploration of new opportunites in fringe issues like landscape urbanism can lead to new avenues for the profession as a whole while also potenitally decentralizing and fractionalizing the profession in the pursuit of specializtion. The latter in my mind could be the degradation of our core professional values which should be the basis for licensure and legitimization. Am I readin your argument correctly or are you just taking a shot at NR?


    The problem with being a ‘realist’ is that reality is completely subjective, no?

    Jason T. Radice

    No, not at all. That’s what they want you to think. Some things are irrefutable. The glass is not half empty, its not half full, but it DOES have stuff in it.

    Chris Whitted

    A furlough is basically mandatory, unpaid time off. You’re not fired, you’re not laid off, but you’ve been told not to come in to work even if you want to and you will not be paid for the working hours missed. However there are some fairly complex rules in employment law as far as when and how they can be implemented, and many times it’s not done legally (much like comp time).

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    The state of the profession is where it always is – roughly equal to that of development.

    Jay Smith

    Of the LAs you know, how many lost their jobs after the economy went bad?

    Out of about 10 people I’m tracking, seven lost their jobs. I’m not sure how many of them have found new work.

    I’m sorry I cannot provide more information, but it’s an interesting thread. I think you should also consider, as with any online discussion forum, that you are more likely to attract those of us who are not fairing so well right now. Those with jobs and rosey outlooks are much less likely to seek out and spend time on a forum like this. I’m not saying the people here are overly pessimistic or anything, but it’s a factor that should be taken into consideration when putting together an estimate.

    I’m hoping things turn around faster than many anticipate, but the reality of the situation is pretty grim. I’m trying to figure out what else I can do with my life at this point, as an unstable future in Landscape Architecture seems very disheartening. There’s a good chance I’ll be enrolled back in a university somewhere by the end of next year after my eight year stint in the field.


    Is that to say that LA will inevitably always be dependent on growth?

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    The profession as a whole is dependent on development. That includes re-development. Restoration projects are usually mitigation added onto a development or re-development project, or at least funded by them. I’m not saying that each and every project or activity done by each and every landscape architect is directly a result of development, but that the overall state of the profession is exactly parallel with that of development.

    That is why I get very frustrated with the amount of anti-development rhetoric that is generated by some landscape architects, some of the organized voices of our profession, and some of those teaching our profession in universities.

    It is like being a taxidermist and being against hunting and fishing. They can work on roadkill, pets, and deceased barnyard animals, but the overall state of taxidermy is dependent on hunting & fishing. One would think that a taxidermist would have the sense to recognize both that a decline in hunting and fishing will impact his profession and that it is his best interest to support responsible hunting and fishing. …. or they could look for grants, or to start non-profit taxidermy, or educate the public to the value of stuffed animals, or go back to get an advanced degree in taxidermy, or bitch about the lack of work being generated by the Association of American Taxidermists, or try to figure out what a new name for their profession so that it will thrive. I’d like to think that most people would think that those alternatives are impractical for both taxidermists and LAs, but there is plenty of evidence within these forums that would indicate otherwise. I truly find that frightening.


    So would you say it’s a completely symbiotic relationship, in an ideal world? Should our professional values and objectives be in perfect alignment with development? Is it in the best interest of our profession, our individual careers, and planet Earth to align ourselves so closely with land developers?

    I think what all these questions come down to is how much faith do we put in the free market to serve the better good of humanity. I think we could agree that the land development world is almost entirely driven by the tenets of free market capitalism. Setting aside the professional dilemma for a second–Is it always a fair trade to build a gas station where a virgin prairie once existed, even if the developer thinks he or she will make money from the deal? I dont think so. Call it professional suicide, but I think we can do better while still realizing the goals of each party.

    I think you grazed over the idea that the taxidermist should promote ‘responsible’ hunting and fishing. To me this is also code for ‘regulated.’ Unchecked growth for the sake of growth is a mistake and I think we’re seeing the outfall of the last decade of this practice both in the financial sector and in land development.

    Edward Abbey wrote, ‘growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell.’

    steve phillips

    Hello everyone, I stumbled onto this site and wasn’t even drunk. Glad I did, we are the salt of the earth, and I already feel like I have come home to the salt mines. I spent a few hours yesterday of exploration here, and will continue as long as this site is maintained. BTW, who does maintain it?

    My name is Steve and live about an hour north of Tampa. I graduated from UGA in 85. In early middle age now, I have just been confirming the fact that the LA proffession is the only thing that interests me even though it is very fickle. (Sorry about that word, “fickle”, it is not really what I want, but for now let’s just leave it that). My carerr thus far has been bumpy and have no reason to believe that it will not always be. Unfortunately, I was born to be a LA and will die one. I do have my opinions and will voice them, just not now, since I desire only to introduce myself, and express my delight.

    I have a minor in Fine Arts and approch all projects with inovation, I can not handle a cookie cutter approch to design. Being fluent in Spanish allows me to offer something to this site. Maybe I can offer a more european and south american cultural point of view, also lanugage/culture be a barrier. Example, imagine if every citizen in the U.S. had access to a park/plaza within walking distance! The social impact is enormous. One small european given concept (that goes back to the forum) that the anglos never got. We should also link with the fine artists. I mention this because enivoronmental art and diversity are the other side of my coin, appropriate for an introduction. At this point I reflect on the present and future implications of being able to voice even one of my convictions and embrace yours.

    I am obviously very excited to join your site and pleased, in advance, to meet you.


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